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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my conversion to vegetarianism.  I received a lot of positive responses as well as a lot of questions and some requests for shopping lists.

First of all, eating healthier means that you’ll be spending a lot more time in the kitchen.  If you love to cook, then you’re ahead.  If you don’t… well, I can’t relate but I can only suggest that you think of cooking as an adventure.  Because it is!  🙂

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this question, “You don’t eat meat or dairy?  Well, then what DO you eat?”  That has always seemed to me like an odd question – but there are a great many of us who rely on fast food or on heat-and-eat meals.  Cooking from scratch at home may require more time, but in the long run you’ll be saving money and be healthier – what could be better?

So, this week I have put together a list of what I believe are some basic ingredients that every refrigerator must have.

Starting with veggies:

ONIONS.  The most essential veggie.  Onions are in everything – sauteed into stir-fries and sauces, baked on top of pizzas, cooked into soups, garnished onto salads.  I always say that most of my favorite meals begin with onions and garlic being sauteed in olive oil.  Yellows are my go-to onion, but Vidalias and reds are awesome too.

TOMATOES.  (Technically a fruit, yes, but what the hell.)  Both fresh and canned.  I prefer grape tomatoes, which seem to last longer and can be chopped into and onto pretty much any dish.  For larger tomatoes, romas and heirlooms are my favorites.  Canned diced tomatoes are sometimes necessary, and the ones at Trader Joe’s are my preferred brand.  I also like Whole Foods’ 365-Organic Brand of crushed tomatoes with basil.  Perfect for building a spaghetti or pizza sauce.

CARROTS & CELERY.  Two more essential staples for soups, salads, stir-fry, steamed sides, and of course are great raw snacks on their own.

POTATOES.  Baked; mashed; sliced, boiled and fried (or baked, if you want to be healthier) for French fries.  Chopped into curries.  Cooked into soups – minestrone, of course, and homemade potato leek soup is so good and so EASY!   Yum.  I am probably a little TOO fond of potatoes.  Starch in moderation isn’t too bad, is it..?

MUSHROOMS.  You either love ’em or hate ’em, but I personally love me some fungus.  White button mushrooms are the staple in my kitchen.  Portabello caps are choice as well for things Italian.  Shiitakes are excellent for stir-fry and in miso soup.  One time, years ago, I bought some monkey head mushrooms and made a soup with them.  It was… interesting.   Definitely worth trying once just for the experience.  (Hey, like I said – cooking is an adventure!)

BELL PEPPERS.  Greens are usually the cheapest and most plentiful, depending on where you shop, but red and yellow taste so sweet and wonderful and are a great addition to anything – and are absolutely worth every penny of the higher price tag.  (Onions, green peppers and celery are the holy trinity of Cajun cooking!)

BROCCOLI.  How did broccoli become stigmatized as the “veggie that kids hate”?  I always loved it, and I also love how versatile it is.  Raw or cooked, broccoli crowns should always be available for an appearance.  Pasta dishes, salads, soups, stir-fry (you see a theme here, eh?  We eat a lot of those four things).  Steamed with a little bit of pepper?  Nothing finer.  Another good raw snack as well – though I have to admit I’ve always preferred my broccoli cooked.

LETTUCE.  Everyone should be eating more salads (including me!).  For me, organic romaine hearts are the way to go.  Spring mix, when it’s in season, is perfect.

Those are the essentials that I think one must never run out of.  And in the freezer of course I always have peas, corn and green beans.

Oh… and two more things that we keep in the freezer: Amy’s California Veggie Burgers and Rice Dream Vanilla Pies!  We also keep our bread in the freezer because we don’t eat it quickly enough to leave it out.  Barowsky’s breads are our favorite.  I also make my own bread – which is REALLY fun and you should try doing it sometime if you’ve not tried it before!

Then there are the fresh “floaters” that make semi-frequent appearances on my cutting board and in the steamer: zucchini, kale, asparagus, spinach, green onions, leeks, Brussel sprouts.

Onto fruits (which I don’t keep in the fridge, but close enough)!

BANANAS.  Every single morning that I’m home, I have a smoothie with a banana, rice milk, hemp protein and a little bit of carob powder.  The perfect way to start the day.

AVOCADOS.  One of the most perfect foods to ever evolve on this planet.  Absolutely delicious.  I make a lot of guac, but avocados are also great when chopped into a salad, taco or burrito, sliced onto a veggie burger – or just cut one in half and eat the whole thing with a spoon.

APPLES.   Yep.  Apples.  ’nuff said.  My favorites are Braeburns and Galas.

CLEMENTINES.   A quick and healthy snack that’s easy to peel.

I always keep blueberries in the freezer for pancakes and muffins.  And then the fresh “floaters” in this category are: peaches, plums, kiwis, grapes.

Dried fruits are essential, too.  Raisins and dates for starters.  Apricots are yum, too.

MORE FRIDGE STAPLES (in no particular order):

Rice milk (much better than soy)
Hemp protein
Eggs (I eat maybe one a week – and we buy them from a farm just around the corner)
Peanut butter (we buy Trader Joe’s brand, which will separate if not kept in the fridge)
Tahini (for making cheese-like sauces)
Hot sauce (Beast Feast Maine is our preferred source)
Annie’s Goddess Salad Dressing (our favorite)
Follow Your Heart Vegenaise (I love it on my French fries)
Miso (for soups and spreads)
Fresh lemon and lime (for hummus and guac, respectively)
Fresh basil and pine-nuts (for pesto!)

Okay, so that’s the fridge covered.  Next time, I’ll open up the cabinets and take a look at cans, spices, grains, and more!